The most obvious answer would be, from the parents, but who else could have such an impact on a child in those early year that they shape the child’s beliefs for so long?
As part of the process of moving from Christian to Atheist, I spent much time pondering on where my firmest beliefs came from and what triggers, if any, there were in seeding them.
Since my entire school life was spent at boarding school, many of the beliefs I formed and were influenced, not by my parents, but by my teachers and the other children I went to school with.
I have already mentioned that the first seeds of creationism were planted when we were told to cross out a paragraph referencing evolution in our text books (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/let%E2%80%99s-start-at-the-very-beginning/). This event aside, I can remember no other moment when either creationism or evolution was specifically spoken about by a teacher, either at missionary school in Zambia or at secondary school in the UK. Conversations with fellow pupils I can remember, but no specific teaching on either subject.
One specific conversation I can remember was as a young teen at school in the UK and asking a friend to try and explain where we came from and where our ancestors came from etc.. we ended up at fish in the sea, at which point I burst out laughing. So its clear that by this point I was utterly sold on creationism. What puzzles me is that I am fairly sure that evolution should have come up in science classes at some point in the UK curriculum of the 1980s. Yet I can not remember any references. This could be because the school in question was a Church of England Secondary school. However, I doubt very much that any curriculum specification would have been ignored. So I wonder if any evolution references were too mild to cause my creationist values any problem and so they were simply forgotten.
Certainly I never had any discussion with my parents on the matter, in fact school work of any description very rarely came up with my parents due to the boarding school life.
What about other theological points?
Given that I went to two boarding schools which had a major emphasis on Christian teaching. What other things in my life come from those roots?
It would be too much to try and list Christian theological points and try and find the source for each on in my upbringing.
I recall very few specific theological points being taught as a young child away at school. Though, there was a very real Christian ethos everywhere, story time was often in a parable style, with the story and then how it referenced Christian teaching. There was a weekly walk to the local church. Daily assembly had prayers, songs and other Christian anecdotes. All this extra curricular Christian teaching was done by the school teachers, with occasional guests from the local area, or another students parent. When at home, I would of course go to the Sunday School, while my parents remained in church. So again basic Christian teaching and theology was being planted in my young mind by people other than my parents. The only decision my parents made was who was doing it, due to their decision on where they sent me to school or where we went to church.
All these lessons would form the background to my later beliefs. By the time I was old enough to be able to pay attention to a sermon, many of my Christian values were already in place. A sermon would either reinforce those early opinions, where they matched or cause some confusion, where they didn’t. Confusing messages would be ditched and that usually meant the longer held belief won over.
This is something I would see in later life when I spent time as a youth volunteer working with teenagers and giving them information that conflicted with their already held views.
Cause for concern?
When put in this context and looking back, its concerning, that my early and impressionable mind was fed important information that led to me forming incorrect opinions that would take years to undo. Objections about the truth of Christianity aside, should people, untrained in Christian theology and teaching, be left to tell young children the stories that lead to them forming their opinions, before they get the chance to hear the authoritative versions in a sermon?
I think specifically about my own child, going to Sunday School while my wife and I sit in Church. I am an adult and can make my own decisions; I can choose to filter out what I hear from the pulpit. My child does not have that same ability and is too young to be able to determine the questionable from the acceptable. The Sunday School teachers are enthusiastic church volunteers with no training other than the mandatory child protection training that the government has mandated. Even if I were still a Christian, how do I know that my child is learning what I want them to? Do I even know when questionable theology is being fed to my child?
Throw out the Baby with the Bath Water?
One thing I certainly am thankful to my early teachers for is the respect and consideration for others that has been so ingrained into me. This is something that my parents certainly backed up and something I would want my child to have as well. Okay, good behaviour does not require Christian teaching to enforce and encourage, but it does come as part of the package.
Now I need to be careful what I say here so as not to be misunderstood, ‘Christian behaviour’, as an ethos is a very desirable thing in people. The ‘doing onto others as you would have done unto you’ way of behaving is something I still strongly hold as an attitude that people should adhere to they interact with others. This specific policy, though, is only something I have encountered in Christian circles. Now I am not saying that non-Christians have lower standards of behaviour or poor morals, just that this specific message of behaviour is succinctly put and one I think Christians do a good job of promoting.
Yet despite those good points, the sad fact remains that in our Churches (and in my case schools too) young children are getting a basic grounding in Christian theology by people who could be unwittingly seeding ideas that in the future could become platforms for incorrect belief that could prove hard to correct. This is not just because I now reject the Bible and the concept of God, but also because I have a lot of friends who are Christians and I see their children going to Sunday School and I wonder, do they actually know what their child is getting told in there? I know I don’t